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Pets & Your Mental Health

Pets & Your Mental Health

I’ve hidden my pets. Over the years, especially in California, I went through great lengths to hide my pets from my pet friendly apartment landlords that had a limit of 2 pets only. I have 3 cats and a dog and don’t even ask me about foster kittens (where in one year we went through about 50 - they get adopted quickly). I even got my deposit back at every single apartment and I’d never rent at a place that didn’t let me have my babies. I’m even currently trying to buy a home so I can have more. #NotAHoarder. 

Its mental health month and companionship keeps you sane. Pets are mentally attuned to humans and our behavior and emotions, this is a proven fact.

I’ve personally worked remotely/out-of-the-house for five years and without my fur babies, I wouldn’t have been able to survive. There is nothing more enjoyable than a cuddly kitty on your lap as you type away at the computer. 

I’d even say during Covid-19 I was shocked that all the fur babies were acting stressed themselves. I was super stressed for the first month but I didn’t think I was showing it, however, I could see the change in them, and it put my own stress into perspective. 

Pets, especially dogs and cats, can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, ease loneliness, encourage exercise and playfulness, and even improve your cardiovascular health. I’ve personally laughed and smiled more throughout my life because of them. I’ve cried into their fur, I’ve smushed them and tackled them. I pulled on their ears as if I’m a child. I love them, and we have an amazing relationship. I’ve also worked with a few hundred fosters through organizations both at rescues and in my own home. 

Though as great as they are for our mental health, it’s important to remember that we also affect them. We make them stressed, happy, sad… we’re connected. Which is why so many studies have gone into pets and their affect on our mental health. 

Studies have found that:
  • Pet owners are less likely to suffer from depression than those without pets.
  • People with pets have lower blood pressure in stressful situations than those without pets.
  • Playing with a dog or cat can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine, which calm and relax.
  • Pet owners have lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels (indicators of heart disease) than those without pets.
  • Heart attack patients with pets survive longer than those without.
  • Pet owners over age 65 make 30% fewer visits to their doctors than those without pets.
  • While people with pets often experience the greatest health benefits, a pet doesn’t necessarily have to be a dog or a cat. Even watching fish in an aquarium can help reduce muscle tension and lower pulse rate.

Fur Babies VS. Pets:
Not everyone is super attached to their animals. Though most people do have a very strong relationship with their animals and this is because dogs and cats affect us and our oxytocin levels much the same as human babies do. The bond we have with our pets can feel like the bond between mothers and children. Oxytocin enhances social skills, decreases blood pressure and heart rate, boosts immune function and raises tolerance for pain. It also lowers stress, anger and depression.

Allergies:
Have a baby? Get a cat! A study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology found that newborns who live with cats have a lower risk of childhood asthma, pneumonia and bronchiolitis. Not only that, getting a pet within the first year of your Childs life lowers their risk of asthma and makes them 50% less likely to be allergic to pets as an adult because their immune system builds in a positive way. 

“Exposure to animal bacteria may trigger bacteria in our gut to change how they metabolize the neurotransmitters that have an impact on mood and other mental functions,” said Jack Gilbert, the director of the Microbiome Center at the University of Chicago. One study by the New England Journal of Medicine found that Amish Children have lower rates of asthma because they grow up with livestock. 

Routine:
We’ve talked about routine a few times. It relaxes you and reduces stress, well, having an animal creates structure and routine in your day to day life. Dogs and cats have an amazingly accurate time clock. They are bugging me for food and I’m thinking, there is no way it’s five a clock yet. They are always right. Having a consistent routine and not doing open-feeding keeps your pets healthy and also gives them something to look forward to while settling you into a routine with them. It’s a great motivator to have someone to get out of bed for. Not only that but they get you out of the house to exercise and surprise you with cuddles, when you need them or not.  

Overall people feel like they have a better hold on their mental health and feel more overall peace in their day to day life when they own a loving pet that they can connect to. With a lot of pet experience and working with lots of adoption organizations I can tell you the secret to getting the best pet is letting them come to you. If you’re getting a cat, go to a rescue where you can let the cats come to you. Kittens are adorable but you never know what you’re going to get. Picking an adult cat, based on personally, will allow you to really have an amazing relationship. Cats are active for a very long time and also live for normally twenty years so getting a cat that is 1-5 years old (the most common pet age that is surrendered to a shelter) gives you a long term best friend but allows you to get to know their personality. Dogs, unfortunately don’t live as long but they will love every minute with you and rescuing them will bond you in a way you wouldn’t believe.